All of the scheduled public hearings for the House impeachment inquiry led by the Intelligence Committee have been completed. There may be additional testimony before that committee, or before the Judiciary Committee. Should impeachment move to the Senate, there will almost certainly be witnesses called in the trial to be held there. But for now, the public has seen all that we can be sure of seeing. So ... what evidence did the public get to see over the last two weeks?
Wednesday, Nov. 13
William Taylor — Ambassador to Ukraine
William Taylor took over the role of ambassador following the departure of Marie Yovanovitch. But even as Taylor arrived and began trying to exercise his role as ambassador, he found himself at cross-purposes with “the irregular channel” consisting chiefly of Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. In previous testimony and in test messages, it was clear that Taylor became increasingly concerned and frustrated, as a team working at the direction of Trump and Giuliani communicated with Ukrainian officials without his knowledge, and often gave them demands or responses that were counter to what Taylor had been told.
In his opening statement, Taylor also revealed that a member of his staff had overhead a conversation between Trump and Sondland, which would lead to the testimony of David Hale the following week.
Notable testimony: Taylor’s opening testimony was as devastating as any that was delivered later in the hearings. He testified that Sondland made it clear to him that ”everything” was dependent on the announcement of investigations, where “everything” included both the White House meeting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted, and the military assistance Ukraine desperately needed. Taylor was also a critical witness in explaining how the defense of Ukraine is critical to the national security of the United States.
Taylor also gave moving testimony of conditions in Ukraine, the importance of the election of Zelensky, the desperate fight against Russia, and the critical need for Ukraine to see the United States as a consistent, reliable partner. Taylor testified that he attempted to get Sondland to “push back” against Trump, but that Sondland said he tried to talk to Trump without making progress.
Taylor: “Finally, as the Committee is aware, I wrote that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy. I believe that then, and I believe it now.”
George Kent — Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Like others in the State Department, Kent was justifiably angry that efforts to extract political favors for Trump had derailed policies and proceedings that had taken months or years to put in place. In particular, it was hard to lecture a foreign ally about the need for anti-corruption work … while demanding of them nothing short of a corrupt act.
Kent also expressed a great deal of anger toward the way Americans who had “allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas” had launched attacks on “dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine.” Kent testified that these actions, headed by Giuliani at Trump’s instructions, had damaged both Ukraine and the United States.
Notable testimony: Kent was the first official to make absolutely clear what others would say later: When it came to the demands being placed before Zelensky would get a White House meeting, the quid pro quo was absolutely clear. The Giuliani-Sondland-Volker-Perry team was being absolutely clear that they demanded the announcement of investigations designed to benefit Trump politically before they would give Ukraine what it needed.
Kent: “It became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelensky’s desire for a White House meeting.”
Friday, Nov. 15
Marie Yovanovitch — former Ambassador to Ukraine
Ambassador Yovanovitch was removed from her position in May, well before Trump’s phone call with Zelensky or the infamous July 10 meeting in which Sondland made it clear to Ukrainian officials that nothing was moving forward without the investigations Trump demanded. But despite having missed the heart of Trump’s impeachable acts, Yovanovitch was a key player in the opening acts. Rudy Giuliani, his associate Lev Parnas, and the corrupt former officials they had recruited into their scheme saw Yovanovitch as a roadblock. So they conducted a months-long scheme to smear the ambassador and remove her from office, over the objections of almost everyone in the State Department … with the notable exception of the silent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Notable testimony: Since she was not a fact witness to Trump’s call or later activity, the great majority of Yovanovitch’s testimony was to the vital importance of Ukraine, the difficulty of fighting corruption in an emerging democracy, and the scheme against her. Over the course of the day, Republicans repeatedly tried to make some headway in pushing some of the same allegations that were made by Giuliani, and were consistently turned back by Yovanovitch, who handled the hearing resolutely. In describing the scheme against her, Yovanovitch made it clear that the damage was more than just pushing her out personally. It was one of several acts being conducted by Giuliani and Trump that undermined real anti-corruption efforts and showed Ukrainian officials that the United States was actually promoting corruption—so long as it helped Trump and his friends.
After a day of skillfully fending off attacks, making her case, and overall being a sterling example of everything good in public officials, Yovanovitch left the room to a standing ovation.
Yovanovitch: “Not all Ukrainians embraced our anti-corruption work. Thus perhaps it was not surprising that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me.
What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them, and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador.”
Tuesday, Nov. 19
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — National Security Council Ukraine expert
Vindman was a firsthand witness to both July 10 meetings in which Ambassador Gordon Sondland insisted that Trump wanted investigations before he would meet with Ukrainian President Zelensky, and to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
Both of these events struck Vindman as very “irregular” and “disturbing.” Following the July 10 meetings, he spoke with national security adviser John Bolton who advised Vindman to speak with White House attorney John Eisenberg. Vindman notified Eisenberg of his concerns on that date, and spoke to him again on July 25 after Trump’s call.
Notable testimony: In addition to his general concerns about Trump’s attempts to draw a connection between investigations into the Bidens and the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory, Vindman testified that Sondland directly mentioned the Biden investigation when informing Ukrainian officials of what Trump wanted from them. Vindman also pointed out the disparity in power between Trump and Zelensky, and the importance of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. Republicans spent much of their questioning time pushing insinuations of “divided loyalties” against Vindman and demeaning his service.
Vindman: “Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Jennifer Williams — Foreign policy adviser to Mike Pence
Williams was also a firsthand witness to the July 25 telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky. She also described the call as “unusual and inappropriate.” Williams was one of several witnesses who described how knowledge that U.S. aid had been delayed could act as a signal to Russia to increase its aggression. Despite her position in Pence’s office and no history of any political activity, Trump attacked Williams in statements before her testimony.
Notable testimony: Originally, Mike Pence had been slated to attend Zelensky’s inauguration at Trump’s direction, and Williams helped prepare information for Pence for that occasion. Shortly before the event Pence’s attendance was canceled with no reason given at the time. She, like Vindman, said she had no explanation for why Donald Trump attacked her as a “never Trumper.”
Williams: “Any signal that US support was wavering would be seen as an opportunity for Russia.”
Kurt Volker — former special envoy to Ukraine
Along with Gordon Sondland and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Volker was one of the “three amigos” who attended Zelensky’s inauguration and were assigned by Trump to work with Rudy Giuliani to conduct his personal Ukraine policy. Volker’s position for Ukraine was an unpaid, part-time assignment, but he was one of those most central to translating what Trump and Giuliani were saying into demands expressed to Ukrainian officials. Like Sondland, Volker returned to the House following his initial closed-door testimony to review and amend his statements.
Though he was not a witness to the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, Volker was one of those who was present at the July 10 meeting where Sondland told Ukrainian officials that U.S.-Ukraine relations were dependent on giving Trump the investigations he wanted. Volker said he found Sondland’s statements “inappropriate,” and like several others noted that Sondland’s demand put an abrupt end to the meeting.
Notable testimony: Volker readily admitted that Trump and Giuliani had pushed for “investigations into the 2016 election” and into “the Ukrainian company Burisma.” Volker himself was involved in meeting with Ukrainian officials where these demands were expressed, and even helped to script a possible statement for Zelensky. During his opening statement, Volker admitted that he understood that Burisma meant investigation the Bidens, but claimed repeatedly that he did not know at the time he was expressing Trump’s demand for the investigation to Ukrainian officials.
Volker: ”I did not understand that others believed that any investigation of the Ukrainian company, Burisma, which had a history of accusations of corruption, was tantamount to investigating Vice President Biden. I drew a sharp distinction between the two."
Tim Morrison — former National Security Council official
Morrison took the position formerly occupied by Fiona Hill shortly before Trump’s July 25 phone call to Zelensky. He served in his position only a short time before leaving in October. Like others, Morrison seemed concerned about the contents of that call, but his testimony was drastically different from that supplied by Vindman, Williams, or others who heard the call. Morrison repeatedly insisted that he wasn’t really worried that there was something wrong on the call, but worried that it would leak. Like Volker, Morrison was one of the witnesses requested by Republicans on the committee and peppered his statements with expressions of support for Trump.
Morrison also spent part of his testimony insisting that, in spite of everything, it was important that the United States not lose sight of the importance of supporting Ukraine.
Notable testimony: Morrison also went to White House counsel John Eisenberg immediately after the phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Morrison testified that he didn’t do so out of concern that Trump had said anything “criminal in nature,” but in his meeting with Eisenberg Morrison testified that he had asked the attorney to place the transcript of Trump’s call in a secure server used for top-level national security information. Morrison seemed unaware that Vindman had also contacted Eisenberg, acting on instructions he had previously been given by Fiona Hill, and complained that Vindman had not followed the chain of command by coming to him first. Morrison also leaned into Republican questions about Vindman and said that Hill had warned him against Vindman.
Morrison: “As I stated in my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25 how it’s disclosure would play into Washignton’s political climate. My fears have been realized.”
Wednesday, Nov. 20
Gordon Sondland — Ambassador to the European Union
Unlike most of those testifying, Sondland was not a career diplomat but a political appointee who gained his position the old-fashioned way: He gave Trump $1 million for his inauguration. Sondland has since been known mostly for his very costly update of the ambassador’s residence in Brussels, including a $200,000 kitchen remodel. Along with Kurt Volker and Rick Perry, Sondland was one of the “three amigos” acting as a bridge between the campaign conducted by Rudy Giuliani and the Ukrainian government. Sondland also seemed to have unique access to Trump. In his testimony, he estimated he had around 20 phone conversations with Trump, including several about the situation in Ukraine. Sondland left a huge number of meetings and calls out of his initial closed door testimony, came back and made an amendment, and still left out many incidents recalled by others.
Sondland’s testimony had been greatly anticipated because he seemed to be involved in the scheme to extort Ukraine into following Trump’s demands at every level. From one-on-one meetings in Ukraine in which he spoke with Zelensky’s top aide behind closed doors, to the meeting in the White House basement where he made clear that Trump wanted Zelensky to personally announce an investigation into the 2016 conspiracy theory and the Bidens, Sondland’s fingerprints were everywhere.
Notable testimony: Sondland started off the day with a “that’s a wrap” bang by admitting that there certainly was a quid pro quo in the form of the demand for investigations before Trump would meet with Zelensky. However, Sondland then claimed that he didn’t know if that also applied to military assistance, even though he said as much to others involved in the scheme, and said so to Ukrainian officials when they asked. Sondland repeatedly said in his statements that “everything” being dependent on the investigations was an assumption on his part, rather than being an instruction he received straight from Trump. Like Volker, Sondland also said that, despite working with Rudy Giuliani for months and repeatedly insisting on investigations, he did not understand that when he was pushing for investigations into Burisma, that meant into Joe Biden—a position that was completely contradicted in later testimony. Sondland’s testimony was riddled with claims that he could not remember people, or events, or what was said. In fact, his most frequent statement by far was “I don’t recall.”
Sondland also seemed eager to push directions he had received onto Giuliani, even though he was in frequent personal communication with Trump.
Sondland: “As I testified previously, Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”
Laura Cooper — Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
Cooper was on of the officials responsible for conducting the review of military assistance slated for Ukraine and for determining if Ukraine had met the requirements on fighting corruption and upholding democratic standards that were built into that bill. Cooper certified the Ukrainian assistance for release in May, then was puzzled when it was later placed on hold by Trump. She testified to the meeting where she was made aware of the hold and that the instructions to stay the assistance came from Trump.
Notable testimony: A critical point of the entire inquiry has been Republicans insisting that since “Ukraine didn’t know” the assistance was being held, then it couldn’t be a quid pro quo. However, Cooper provided surprising testimony that on July 25, the same day Trump spoke with Zelensky, her office received multiple inquiries asking about the assistance, indicating that Ukraine was aware of the hold weeks before it became public. Cooper also testified to other events in August confirming that Ukraine was aware of the hold. Cooper’s testimony exploded the idea that the call and other demands for investigations were done without Ukraine knowing of the hold.
Cooper: “Specifically, on the issue of Ukraine's knowledge of the hold or Ukraine asking questions about possible issues with the flow of assistance, my staff showed me two unclassified emails that they received from the State Department. One was received on July 25, at 2:31PM. That e-mail said that the Ukrainian embassy and House Foreign Affairs committee are asking about security assistance.”
David Hale — Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Hale mainly spoke to issues involving former Ambassador Yovanovitch, who lost her position due to the schemes pressed by Giuliani and Trump’s willingness to involve himself in this smear. On learning that Yovanovitch was under attack, Hale made repeated attempts to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to step in and defend her, but Pompeo would not respond to these requests. Hale was another of the witnesses who had been requested by Republicans.
Notable testimony: Hale described Yovanovitch as “an exceptional officer.” As the highest-ranking professional diplomat in the State Department, Hale clearly felt personally upset over the Yovanovitch’s treatment and the threats leveled against other State Department officials who have testified in the inquiry. Hale also made it clear that he, like Ambassador William Taylor and others of the diplomatic staff, were largely cut off from the actions being taken by Giuliani, Sondland, Volker, and others who were following Trump’s personal agenda.
Asked about demanding political favors from Ukraine, Hale had an answer that probably did not endear him to the Republicans who had wanted him to appear.
Hale: “That would be inconsistent with the conduct of our foreign policy in general.”
Schiff: “And it’d be wrong, wouldn’t it?”
Hale: “It’s certainly not what I would do.”
Thursday, Nov. 21
Fiona Hill — Former Russia specialist at the National Security Council
Hill stepped down in July, days before the call between Trump and Zelensky, so she was not a firsthand witness to that call. However, Hill was there for much of the Ukraine scheme, including the efforts by Giuliani to smear Yovanovitch, the beginning of the separate track handled by the “three amigos,” and the July 10 meetings at which Sondland made it clear to Ukrainian officials that investigations were the price of doing business with the United States.
Hill was the predecessor to Morrison, and was asked about the claims from Morrison that she had warned him Vindman was unreliable. Hill contradicted that testimony strongly, making it clear that she held Vindman in high regard and only told Morrison he “wasn’t political enough” to deal with a White House that was increasingly demanding politics over expertise. Hill also testified that following the July 10 meetings she met with Bolton, who expressed to her that he did not want to be “part of the drug deal being cooked up by Sondland and Mulvaney.”
Notable testimony: Hill testified that some on the committee were trying to deny Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign, which generated a huge amount of chest-pounding, man-splaining, and genuinely ugly moments from Republicans in the room. They waved copies of the long-disproven partisan report that Rep. Devin Nunes produced in the days when he chaired the Intelligence Committee and more than implied that Hill was ignorant about the truth. Through it all, Hill remained the definition of unflappable, responding calmly (when she was allowed to respond at all) and making it clear she understood there were two tracks going on: the vital business of the country, and a political track designed to get personal favors for Trump. Hill made it clear that she had twice confronted Sondland over his actions, and that Sondland told her his instructions came straight from Trump.
Hill’s testimony was powerful, and made more so because of her unmatched calmness and generous responses. One of the few blunt statements that Hill made was her flat denial that anyone could, as Volker and Sondland claim, not have known that pushing for investigation of Burisma was the same as asking for an investigation of the Bidens.
Hill: “Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.
David Holmes — foreign service officer in Kyiv
Holmes was something of a last-minute addition, appearing only because of the testimony from William Taylor that he had overheard a key conversation between Sondland and Trump. But in addition to that testimony, Hale provided unmatched details of the effects on the ground in Ukraine, of the split between a diplomatic community attempting to conduct the business of the nation, and a group empowered by Trump to focus on the politics of personal destruction.
As many others had done, Hale provided an extensive defense of Ambassador Yovanovitch. And he gave detailed testimony on the corrupt officials behind some of Giuliani’s charges—and behind articles that Devin Nunes had cited during the inquiry to justify Trump’s actions. Holmes also made it clear that the White House visit itself had very high value to Zelensky, and that they clearly understood that meeting was being withheld because Trump wanted the investigations into Hillary Clinton and the Bidens.
Holmes’ opening statement may be the definitive timeline of events on the ground in Ukraine.
Notable testimony: As expected, Holmes did testify that he overheard a conversation between Trump and Sondland at a restaurant in Kyiv. In that conversation, Trump asked Sondland on the progress of getting the investigations he wanted. Afterward, Sondland and Holmes talked and Sondland informed Holmes that Trump didn’t care about Ukraine or their war with Russia, but only the “big stuff” like announcing an investigation into the Bidens. The conversation was key not just to tying Trump to this direct demand, but to making it clear Sondland knew all along that the request was directly aimed at the Bidens.
Holmes: “I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.’”